Faking WikiLeak-ed Cables for Propaganda or How to Beat ‘The Onion’ at Farce

It’s been called “the first case of WikiLeaks being exploited for propaganda purposes.” So, I thought I was braced for the propaganda ride when I clicked on the offending story on the Web site of the Pakistani daily, The News.

But nothing - I repeat, nothing - could have prepared me for the sheer treat that lay in store.

Two grafs into the story and I was chuckling. Four graphs in and I was chortling with that “rather a geek” comment. Seven grafs and I was exclaiming, “But this is funnier than The Onion!”

By the end of the 2,000-odd word piece I was wiping my eyes – tears of mirth or tears of sheer exasperation, I really can’t say.

In case you’re wondering what the fuss is all about, it’s the story of several leading Pakistani newspapers publishing front-page pieces of fake WikiLeaks cables earlier this week.

The story was broken by The Guardian’s Declan Walsh, who discovered that none of the purported US assessments could be found on the WikiLeaks database. The Guardian, a British daily which has all the leaked WikiLeaks cables, could find no match for any of the claims made in the Pakistani press.

Now that’s hardly surprising. Whatever you may think about US State Department officials, on reading the WikiLeaked cables, you have to admit, as Roger Cohen put it in his New York Times op-ed, US diplomats write “clear, declarative English sentences”.

So if a US diplomat sends a cable calling a former Indian Army chief an “incompetent combat leader and rather a geek” with a “much far from reality” war doctrine of eliminating China and Pakistan, someone should have smelt a rat.

The stories were apparently generated by the Islamabad-based Online wire agency, that is known for its close links to the Pakistani intelligence services.

The Pakistani mainstream media’s willingness to toe the official military-intelligence line has been much noted, and is a subject worthy of discussion by other people – especially editors of international dailies such as the International Herald Tribune, whose Pakistani affiliate, Express Tribune, published the piece followed by a front-page retraction.

I’ve spent enough time locked in journalistic integrity discussions. This time, I simply want to enjoy the “journalistic” farce.

Click here for more on how the ‘secretive’ ISI thinks – and dreams

Much has been said about “the secretive Pakistani spy agency, the ISI” and the “shadowy network of military-intelligence agencies that control the Pakistani state”.

But if you’d like some idea of how these shadowy spy chiefs think – or dream – check The News piece.

For one, ISI honchos have an exalted self-image. The discredited News story claims US diplomatic cables hailed ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s term extension, calling it “a good omen” that would “enhance the agency’s abilities to combat the anti-terror war”.

In reality, US diplomats in Islamabad were warning Washington of official Pakistani double-dealing on the anti-Islamist terror front, but never mind. The ISI boys see themselves as the ultimate bulwark against the militant Islamist groups they try, but in reality barely manage, to control.

Go get the Quetta shura

Another howler comes from the Nation’s story, which claims US diplomats were pressing India, “the key ally in the war on terror” to do more to “eliminate the sanctuaries of the so-called Quetta shura”.

Whaa? Whaa? Whaa?!! I almost spurted my coffee on this one.

The Quetta shura of course refers to the close circle around Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who is believed to be based in, or around, the Pakistani city of Quetta.

To quote former US President George W. Bush, Pakistan - not India - is the key US ally in the war on terror. What’s more, Quetta is firmly in Pakistani territory. What’s India got to do with eliminating the leadership of a movement that New Delhi despises in a Pakistani city?

Aha! Welcome to the convoluted world of Pakistani spy honchos.

Pakistani officials have long maintained that Indian intelligence services are mucking around in the troubled Pakistani province of Baluchistan. Quetta is the provincial capital of Baluchistan. The Baloch have a long, troubled relationship with Islamabad and the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani military establishment.

The fake US cables are full of “enough evidences of Indian involvement in Baluchistan” as the title of The News story declares.


Indian intelligence services might well be mucking around in Baluchistan, I really don't know. Remember, this is the "shadowy world" of rival spy agencies. But I doubt that if they ever get their hands on Mullah Omar, they'll need Washington to press them to get rid of him.

So who killed a top cop during the Mumbai attacks?

Time now for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks and the Pakistani intelligence take on “26/11” as the attacks are called on the subcontinent.

This is a circuitous one, but I’ll try to simplify it.

Washington apparently believes the Taliban, al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba -- the group New Delhi blames for the Mumbai attacks -- are “peanuts” compared to extremist Hindu groups based in India.

I have long bitched and moaned about the international community’s failure to pay attention and condemn India’s alarming extremist Hindu groups. There are few organizations that make my skin crawl more than the Shiv Sena, the Mumbai-based right-wing Hindu organization that killed the spirit of India’s once truly cosmopolitan city. But even I have to concede that the Shiv Sena is peanuts compared to al Qaeda. But that was in the dark old days.

The so-called US cables go on to suggest that Hemant Karkare, a senior Mumbai police official who was killed in the first few hours of the Mumbai attacks “was eliminated in a pre-planned ambush during the Mumbai attacks”.

The culprit? A senior Indian Army official who was in cahoots with Hindu extremist groups.

Mind-boggling stuff – I leave the reader to chew on this one.

My only explanation is a rather weak India and Pakistan are arch-enemies locked in an often farcical rivalry in a mind-boggling part of the world.

Days after international news organizations such as The Guardian, The Washington Post, the BBC and the Associated Press covered the story of the faked cables, some - but not all - of the hoaxed Pakistani newspapers retracted their stories.

But I’m not sure how many people who read the original stories will continue to believe the old version. Some may even believe the retractions were forced by the USA to appease New Delhi. As we well know, when in doubt in Pakistan, just blame the USA.

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Hilarious if it were not somewhat tragic. It's amazing that some people looks for every opportunity to cook up (often extremely convoluted) disinformation.
Leela, While your story was a good read and an accurate description of the fake leaks fiasco, I think you should have mentioned that Hemant Karkare was indeed threatened by Hindu extremists because he was investigating a terrorist attack which was initially blamed on Pakistan (when in doubt in India, blame Pakistan) but the perpetrators turned out to be Hindu extremists including an Indian Army officer. Today (Dec 11) several Indian newspapers have carried this story: Hours before death, Karkare told me his life was in danger: Digvijay (Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh) "When I called him he said, he was receiving some threat calls. He did not know who was calling. An article was published in a magazine linked to RSS against his son. It alleged that his son had got some Rs 50 crore contract from Dubai while his son was just 17-years-old," the senior Congress leader said. Suggesting that he and Karkare had come closer after he congratulated the slain ATS chief over the arrests in the Malegaon blasts, Singh said that Karkare was a "little depressed" that top leaders of BJP including Rajnath Singh were questioning his integrity.

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